“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Matthew 25:37-43
This morning, a rally was held in Uganda to celebrate that country’s new and notoriously harsh anti-gay legislation. I was greatly distressed when I found out that the Catholic archbishop of Kampala, Cyprian Kizito Lwanga, had participated.
I find this absolutely unconscionable. This should be so easy. A law that punishes homosexual acts with sentences up to life imprisonment, and punishes non-reporting with prison, is plainly unjust and against the Gospel and the Church’s Holy Magisterium.
Is it not clear that, throughout history, homosexual persons have truly been “the least of these”? That they have been for most of history, and remain, beyond what remain small post-modern enclaves, “despised and rejected of men”?
Let’s get a few red herrings out of the way first:
- This is not about the morality of homosexual acts, or the “culture wars” of the postmodern West; saying that politically-motivated homophobia is wrong is fully in accord with the Gospel and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church–indeed, commanded by it;
- The Church’s record on this issue is not grim; prelates do often speak well on this issue, as recently in India or in the person of Cardinal Turkson; this is not about demonizing the Church; its record could be worse; it could, however, be better;
- I want to give as fair a hearing as possible to people who think homosexual acts ought to be penalized; this is something I strongly disagree with, but this isn’t what this is about either; this isn’t about the law being a moral teacher, this wave of new laws is about a convenient way for tinpot demagogues to get some political capital on the cheap by demonizing a minority and stoking a populace’s worst instincts (see Putin, Vladimir).
Here’s another thing that’s so infuriating, here: all the pseudo-science. We Catholics roll our eyes, rightly, over stupid things like Creationism and “pray the gay away” ministries. We are heirs to the most stupendous intellectual patrimony in the history of civilization. The junk science about homosexuality that is peddled by American Fundamentalists has now found its way to Africa to do even more damage. Supporters of these laws claim that homosexuality is a Western invention foisted upon them by colonialism, and that it is a choice. They use eliminationist rhetoric. The Church of Aquinas and Bellarmine ought to vomit out this nonsense.
This law sits at the nexus of everything that ought to be repellent to a Christian, and especially a Catholic. The victimization of the scapegoat. Junk science. Lies. Political demagoguery. Unchecked majority rule.
Now, where does the Church stand, here? As noted by Catholic activist Frank Mugisha in a must-read post, we could be doing so much better. Yes, the Church has spoken well in some circumstances. But not in every circumstance, as today’s event makes clear. There should be a united, strong voice. All Catholic bishops, particularly in Uganda and other affected countries (here, I think especially of Russia) should speak with one voice. This is where our “Catholic difference”, our being a sign of contradiction, ought to shine most brightly: not the anything-goes of the postmodern West, but not hateful repression either. (By the way, this isn’t what it’s about, but I can’t help but point out that it would be politically deft for the Catholic Church to be outspoken about homophobia in the developing world. People in the West are always asking about evidence for our claim to “hate the sin, love the sinner.” Let’s show them.)
Will this make evangelization harder in the short run? Will it cause some people in these countries to leave their parish church to go to the Evangelical or Anglican church next door? Tough. Take up your Cross.
If you think this isn’t a big deal, just try to imagine what it must be like to find yourself to be gay in a country that has a culture where a politician could get more popular by signing a law that carries a life sentence for homosexual acts. Pause the rhetoric, and just try to imagine that.
Someone like that is someone whom the Gospel says to pour out our love to. The rest can wait. And the Church must speak with one voice.